Try as he might, Travis Collins can’t help but make his writing personal.
The man who performs under the moniker A.M. Stryker internalizes many of his emotions. They need to come out somewhere, and often do through his songwriting. On his latest record, The Bold Sleep So Well, he stumbled onto discovering how his anxiety affects his life and relationships.
Collins’ last album, The Lion’s Share, centered around the unraveling of his marriage and the death of his father-in-law. On the eve on that release, he received a call from his ex-wife, upset that he’d been so open about their relationship.
“I told her she had a right to be upset,” Collins shares over some donuts and coffee at a table in the back of Glam Doll Donuts. “But it’s a part of my life, and it was my form of therapy to write about it. It wasn’t my intention to make her mad. I’ve talked to people on that other side that have had songs written about them, and they kinda understood that if you don’t have that outlet, it’s a little difficult to watch someone use it publicly and not have a public response. I let her be upset. She internalized [the end of our relationship] and didn’t see me as part of it. I was there. I have to write about my perspective.”
Just as personal as The Lion’s Share, The Bold Sleep So Well focuses on Collins finding some peace between the moments of anxiety with which he struggles. These pieces were what came out when Collins picked up his guitar to unwind.
Collins may be recognized for his bass work in We Are the Willows and Deleter, but his intricate guitar picking on the A.M. Stryker albums sets this work apart from him as a bassist. Wanting to deviate even further from the last album, he added a few more instruments, including a Wurlitzer. Hillary James contributes cello parts, as on the previous album, and Collins worked closely with Josh McKay to flesh out the drumming.
On the opener “When My Weakness Takes Me,” a quasi-love song, Collins searches for answers in another past relationship, one in which he’d openly shared his insecurities and, he suggests, invested himself in much more than his partner did.
“When you lose sight of yourself, that’s not good,” Collins says. “It gave me a lot of anxiety, trying to hold on. I interpreted it as love and care -- and some of it was -- but a lot of it was my own anxiety seeping in. What I ultimately came to was this doesn’t make sense; it almost felt nervous and frantic and obsessive. As it came together, some other songs took other themes, but they all centered around my anxiety.”
With the lens turned on himself, Collins got to the root of this anxiety: the fateful night when he was ten and his father passed away, an event he details on the last song, “Down By the Lake.”
In anticipation of his family’s annual Fourth of July camping trip, Collins had been sleeping in the camper in the driveway. Flashing lights woke him in the early hours of the morning. He walked to the end of the driveway where his mother was crying as some policemen, Collins’ grandfather, and a pastor were gathered around, consoling her over the death of her husband.
“I don’t think I processed what happened,” he says. “That’s part of where my lifelong anxiety comes from. I remember running into my room that night crying and falling asleep. I woke up the next morning, remembered what happened. and told myself I had to be okay. Clearly I wasn't, but I just decided I had to be okay. That probably wasn’t the best way to handle it.”
Like slowly letting a string tied to a helium-filled balloon slide through your fingers before letting go, each word Collins plotted out on “Down By the Lake” allowed him room to move within his anxious thoughts. With the last line, “Down in the ground where we buried my dreams, my father and me,” he finds a way to move forward.
“This record gave me a lot of insight into grief and pain,” he recalls. “At times, it made me terrified of experiences. Sometimes I need to control things because at ten, my whole life was yanked out from underneath me. Now when I’m anxious, I just want to have everything in control and feel like nothing will happen again, but that’s fucking impossible. I don’t regret who I’ve become, but I do think a lot about who I would have been and my father’s dreams for me and how my dreams would be different. My love for music and playing came from him; he didn’t play a lot, but he was a lover of music. We listened to so many things. I have memories of all kinds of stuff, jazz especially. The ideas I buried there with him were the person who I would have been. I would have been someone different.”
With: The Person and the People
Where: Icehouse Minneapolis
When: Saturday, March 11
Tickets: 21+, $8 -$10 door, more info here
All profits from album sales and streaming of The Bold Sleep So Well for the first 60 days will be donated to the Confederation of Somali Community in Minnesota.